Placer County budget challenges, building projects marked 2011

Revenue-sharing fund debate, CEO Miller’s retirement announcement, new county appointments also made headlines
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Budget challenges continued to cast a shadow over Placer County operations in 2011. But the year now ending also was marked with continued debate over a $100,000 charity fund, the impending retirement of the county’s top manager, a shift in Auburn representation and more staff changes. This year’s county spending plan has dropped by 1.1 percent to $765.8 million. Despite the decrease, Chairman Robert Weygandt could characterize the county’s financial position as “healthy” and said Placer was doing much better that many other local governments that had to impose major layoffs. The ongoing sag in the housing industry continued to have a negative impact on the county budget – but finance and budget operations manager Graham Knaus reported to supervisors that the good news was that the drop in assessment roll values had slowed. The decrease was 2.96 percent this past year, compared with 6.25 percent the year before. Newly sworn-in Supervisor Jack Duran of Roseville provided the board with an opportunity for some spirited debate over the future of the county’s revenue-sharing fund. The fund provides $100,000 in taxpayer funds for supervisors to control and distribute. Duran and District 5 Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery were on the losing end of a vote to keep the fund on hold but did advocate successfully for more clearer and public reporting on the process. Citing the need to look at other budget priorities during lean times, Duran favored establishing a new county committee to field recommendations for revenue-sharing donations from supervisors. But he could gain no support from Supervisors Kirk Uhler, Jim Holmes and Weygandt. “If I write the check, what does that say about me if I don’t have the money to pay it?” Duran asked. Redistricting decisions were made by supervisors and that resulted in Montgomery’s eastern Placer County district taking in all of the city of Auburn. The move reflected relatively stagnant growth in eastern Placer County while the tri-city area of Roseville, Lincoln and Rocklin, boomed during the first decade of the century. Holmes, a graduate of Auburn’s Placer High School whose brother, Mike, is an Auburn City Council member, reluctantly accepted new boundaries which left his district outside Auburn. County Executive Officer Tom Miller – the county’s top manager – announced this month that he will be retiring early in the new year. Miller took the CEO’s post in 2005 and steered it through budget losses, testy contract negotiations, attempts to avoid layoffs and construction of several new county buildings paid mostly through developer fees taken in during Placer’s unprecedented economic growth spurt. While the construction industry was relatively stagnant in the region, Placer County was moving ahead with a new $98 million adult correctional facility in Roseville. A second major project – the $74 million Foresthill Bridge seismic retrofit and painting project was started in late winter, with federal coffers picking up nearly 90 percent of costs, while state funds were pledged for the rest. Also during 2011, the county filled two key management posts from within its own ranks. Mary George, who started with Placer County as a library clerk, was promoted to director of library services. Marshall Hopper, a 14-year Probation Department employee, was named to replace the retiring Stephen Pecor. Pecor stepped own after 29 years with the county, including the last five as chief probation officer.